Three ways to raise more money at your benefit dinner

Before I start, let me just say, I’ve been to a lot of fundraising dinners. Like, a lot. I seek them out and attend when I can, not because I’ve got buckets of cash to hand out but because I work in advertising and I’m in the business of selling a story and a vision, which is exactly what a non-profit should be doing.

Here are the three best tips for hosting a better benefit dinner with practical and actionable steps you can follow to create larger impacts:

Set a non-monetary goal.

Everyone believes their non-profit can make a difference, and it probably can. But people need to feel like there is a real goal they can help accomplish. If you’re a school, you should not be raising $200,000 to offset your deficit, you should be raising $200,000 to implement an award-winning curriculum, build a state of the art of chemistry lab, or construct a new playground and implement a health program. Use other year-round donations to offset costs. Use a benefit dinner to rally support and make a real change in the community.

How it helps donors: Donors want to feel like they contributed to making something real and tangible happen. It’s hard to justify donating to a general operations budget for many reasons. For one, it feels like we’re bailing your organization out, not helping it grow. Two, how will we ever know our donation made a difference? Having a goal helps donors understand their role in the community.

How it helps you: Setting a goal means there’s something exciting for your volunteers to look towards. It also helps determine an exact amount of money you’ll need to raise. Plus, there’s another side benefit: it will force your organization to be honest about expenses and how money is being spent. If you meet your goal, you then earn the right to say, “look at this, we made it happen together” which will likely translate to higher donor retention rates.


Break down costs

And do it very clearly. Once you have a set goal, it’s much easier to break down costs. This helps with donations as well, since most people come with a set amount in their minds to donate. You likely won’t be able to triple the amount, but a 25% increase is very doable. For example, if your school is building out a chemistry lab, and a single chemistry set costs $1250, you’re no longer asking people to donate money, you’re asking them to purchase a single set on behalf of the school. If someone walked in knowing they’d be donating $1000, you’ve likely convinced them to donate an additional $250. If you can convince even half of your audience to up their donation by 25%, you’ve already benefited in the thousands.

How it helps donors: While it can be hard to swallow a large number, suddenly a small donation can seem insignificant when broken down. Help your donor understand that no donation is too small by telling them exactly what different dollar amounts can accomplish.

How it helps you: There are two main benefits. By breaking down costs, you’ll likely amaze yourself with how reachable your goal is, encouraging yourself and your team. Two, you’ll be able to encourage donors to increase their donation amount by just a little bit more than they would have spent otherwise.


Thank your donors, and thank them profusely.

Donor retention is the number one way organizations raise money, and it’s where 70% of your efforts should go. One thing I really appreciated at the recent Global Deaf Muslim benefit dinner in Atlanta was that the founders of the organization came around to every table to thank attendees for coming out and supporting them. If you can’t manage that, at least make sure the correspondence you’re sending does a half decent job. I get about 10 letters in the mail a year from non-profits thanking me for my donation followed by a number for my tax receipts. Someone out there sacrificed a lobster roll dinner or vacation or new shoes for you, so get personal and really write a thank you letter from the heart. Here are two examples:

“Dear [name,] Thank you for your donation of $xx.xx to help educate schoolgirls in India, we appreciate it, please keep this for your tax records.”

and then there’s

“[Name], I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done to help girls like Sonia get an education and make Kanpur, India a better place. Together, we can increase literacy rates and open doors for these women. Once again, thank you for what you’ve done, we truly appreciate it.

P.S. Here’s some tax info you should keep for your records”

 Can you think of an organization you love? Remember to thank them, and mention what the donation has helped accomplish or will achieve. However, if someone donates to build a new chemistry lab at your school and you thank them for helping fund a foreign language program, that’s not good and you risk losing them as a continuing supporter. So be specific and personal, and thank them for what they donated to.

Do you know any great examples of Muslim organizations that implement smart fundraising techniques? We’d love to hear!